1st Edition

Matters of Revolution Urban Spaces and Symbolic Politics in Berlin and Warsaw After 1989

By Dominik Bartmanski Copyright 2022
    224 Pages 5 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    224 Pages 5 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Symbols matter, and especially those present in public spaces, but how do they exert influence and maintain a hold over us? Why do such materialities count even in the intensely digitalized culture? This book considers the importance of urban symbols to political revolutions, examining manifold reasons for which social movements necessitate the affirmation or destruction of various material icons and public monuments. What explains variability of life cycles of certain classes of symbols? Why do some of them seem more potent than others? Why do people exhibit nostalgic attachments to some symbols of the controversial past and vehemently oppose others? What nourishes and threatens the social life of icons? Through comparative analyses of major iconic processes following the epochal revolution of 1989 in Berlin and Warsaw, the book argues that revolutionary action needs objects and sites which concretize the transformative redrawing of the symbolic boundaries between the "sacred" and "profane," good and evil, before and after, and "progressive" and "reactionary"—the symbolic shifts that every revolution implies in theory and formalizes in practice. Public symbols ensconced within actual urban spaces provide indispensable visibility to human values and social changes. As affective topographies that externalize collective feelings, their very presence and durability is meaningful, and so are the revolutionary rituals of preservation and destruction directed at those spaces. Far from being mere gestures or token signifiers, they have their own gravity with profound cultural ramifications. This volume will appeal to sociologists, anthropologists, geographers, and social theorists with interests in urban studies, public heritage, material culture, political revolution, and social movements.

    Introduction: Considering the Iconic Wall

    1. Point of View

    2. Iconicity, or What Makes Social Performances S/tick

    3. The Revolution That Did Get Televised

    4. Post-revolutionary Nostalgia

    5. The Death and Life of Great Communist Palaces

    Epilogue: Writing Material Culture


    Dominik Bartmanski is Heisenberg Fellow based at the Chair of Cultural Sociology at Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany. He is the co-author of Labels: Making Independent Music and Vinyl: The Analogue Record in the Digital Age and the co-editor of Iconic Power: Materiality and Meaning in Social Life.

    "This is a beautifully written book that demonstrates how the built environment and its iconic nature affects us all. Dealing with the icons of the Soviet bloc (in Berlin and Warsaw), it covers history that still exerts its presence among us. That history will continue to be important. The larger point of the book, however, is applicable beyond the case examined, indeed globally, (and couched in) outstandingly readable prose, much more engaging than what is usually produced by social scientists."

    Douglas Porpora, Drexel University, USA

    "Through a richly evocative reflection upon iconicity and spatiality, Bartmanski turns the cultural sociological kaleidoscope so that we see 1989, the Berlin Wall, and the fall and aftermath of Communism in a profoundly new light."

    David Inglis, University of Helsinki, Finland

    "By focusing on their ‘political materiality,’ Dominik Bartmanski sheds new light on the revolutions of 1989 and explains why some became global icons of the fall of communism and others did not. Theoretically sophisticated and empirically rich, Matters of Revolution proves the relevance of cultural sociology to the study of social movements and political processes."

    Geneviève Zubrzycki, University of Michigan, USA